Keeping Hope Alive When Dealing with Bad News

Hands holding paper with hope written on it.

If a mesothelioma diagnosis recently invaded your life or the life of someone you love, encouragement is what you need most right now.

You’re hearing frightening statistics, scary projections and negative prognoses — kindling fear in your heart.

You need something to hang on to. Something that says it’s going to be okay.

Hope is what you need.

While I don’t have cancer, I faced a life-changing event when the doctor delivered news that my newborn daughter would never function normally.

I needed hope to get through that moment, and the many grievous ones that followed.

Dealing with Unwelcomed News

After the doctor delivered the news, I sobbed uncontrollably on my bed.

One of my dearest friends sat at my side stroking my head.

“I just read a story about a family with a special needs child, and they said they loved their child just the way he was and didn’t want him any other way,” she offered trying to encourage me.

It didn’t.

This baby had grown inside me for nine months. I fully expected a healthy baby girl or boy and never once entertained I would give birth to anything other than that.

The emergency C-section and delivery of a child with a massive brain injury left me utterly stunned.

Learning that you or a loved one has a devastating cancer, such as mesothelioma, almost always solicits the same reaction. It’s never easy to cope with the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and despair.

The Balm of Optimism

The hospital discharged me a day after giving birth. I went home, while my daughter, Elizabeth, fought for life on a ventilator.

My husband, Phil, and I headed to our church’s Wednesday evening service.

The small congregation engulfed us with hugs and tears. The pastor traded the usual midweek format to one tailored solely to support and encourage us.

Person after person stood and told stories of loved ones or people they knew who were born with problems and who grew up to live normal lives.

Light seemed to pervade the darkness that had covered my heart.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as the doctor said it would be,” I thought to myself.

Afterward, the whole group prayed aloud for us.

My husband and I walked out of there on air. I still remember my sister’s words as she walked out with us: “She’s going to be okay,” she said convincingly.

Hope saturated our being.

I look back on it now as optimism delivered on steroids, and boy did it prepare and cocoon us for the rough times ahead.

Elizabeth did get off the ventilator. Two weeks after delivery, I carried our baby home. It was the beginning of many years of ups and downs with a child who never developed normally.

Words That Lift, Not Lower

If mesothelioma entered your life, you’re living these rough times, too. It may be your spouse, your dad or you diagnosed with this dreaded cancer. You may be feeling pretty negative and dismal.

If it’s a family member or a friend, you’re not sure what to say to offer encouragement. If it’s you, you’re hungering for hope.

Some of the people in my life at the time of my daughter’s birth somehow did know what to say and do.

One friend sent a card every week with a Bible verse or inspirational words from a song. Others just offered a comment or two about someone they knew who overcame a similar situation, or a new medical treatment they’d heard of that might help her.

Some just assured me that doctors can’t predict exact outcomes. They can be wrong.

“Well, that is true,” I thought.

I liken these inspirational nuggets to stepping stones of hope over a river of despair and depression. I leapt from one to the other, and each kept me from sinking into sadness. They allowed me to move forward, not afraid of what the future would bring.

Seek Out Environments and People Who Speak Encouragement

It’s important to surround yourself with positivity and others who may share in your experience.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • In your situation make an effort to reach out to the people in your life who you know will instill confidence and positive thoughts.
  • Tell people what you need. Let them know you are frightened and need words of encouragement to keep going.
  • Seek a group who can support you like your church, synagogue, a support group or social club.
  • Stay away from negative friends or relatives who leave you feeling down after their departure.
  • Read uplifting material like Scripture or hopeful poetry or stories.
  • If your loved one has mesothelioma, then be the one to continually speak words of encouragement and faith to him or her. Truly, it will make the journey easier.

No One Can Predict the Future

Mesothelioma researchers work feverishly in many parts of the world to further develop treatments for mesothelioma. Recently, a breakthrough in Australia showed a man’s lungs almost clear of tumors after gene therapy.

My experience has been that doctors often give the worst-case scenario. Keep that in mind when you listen to your physician’s words.

Be positive, hopeful and believe what people say when they offer bright, optimistic encouragement. Let it carry you through your day.

Offer it yourself. Speak words of hope everyday to your loved one with mesothelioma. Keep him or her above the river of gloom.

It’s okay if not everything you say turns out to be exactly right. None of us can predict the future. Speak what needs to be said in the moment.

Adding Good to the Bad

While my daughter was still in the neonatal intensive care, a pediatric neurologist evaluated what looked like seizures. After Elizabeth’s release, we visited the doctor’s office several times for follow-ups.

The doctor delivered some pretty hard news to us during this time, but she had a gifted way of softening it with hopeful messages.

There will be times when difficult stuff can’t be avoided.

What we can do for others in these situations is include a sunny alternative. Overcome darkness with light with a positive comment, an upbeat prediction or cheerful word to counter the tough report.

I’ve lived it, and it truly makes a difference.

I look back at those moments when my ears received these welcome words and remember love and hope swaddling us like a blanket.

Ever since then, my language has been “hope.” I utter words of optimism when I encounter someone on the phone, at their bedside or in passing who is facing a disease or situation that appears insurmountable.

I know my one hopeful comment packs the power to lift them if only for a little while. Then hopefully someone else will come along with another stepping stone to carry them above the stream of despondency.

On Looking Back

Regarding my daughter, it’s true that not every positive prediction or hopeful thought developed into reality. Yet, I still cherish each one and the people who cared enough to utter them.

They served their purpose.

They softened my journey to the final outcome.

And guess what? The doctor was not accurate in all his predictions.

He told me Elizabeth would never walk, talk, feed herself or recognize me. Only one out of four came true.

She is confined to a wheelchair, but truly we can’t get her to be still sometimes. She can feed herself if we set her up with the food, and she certainly knows us. She is beloved by all who meet her.

And even today, her future isn’t over.

I don’t know what medical advancements might help her in the future. There is a ray of hope that medical breakthroughs will bring her developmental gains in the coming years.

Just as I’m not sure if that will happen for my daughter, you may not be sure what will happen with advancements in mesothelioma treatments that can save you or your loved one.

That’s why it’s so important to always have hope.


Beth Swantek has been writing professionally for 30 years. She is a former news reporter and anchor for a CBS affiliate in Michigan and often reported breaking medical and political news. Currently, she teaches media writing and video production at Lawrence Technological University in the Detroit area, as well as working as a freelance writer and producer.

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